Revenge of the Red Snapper

He was a handsome red snapper, eyes bright, that committed the crime. He had a somewhat startled look on his face, as if to say: “What the hell happened?!?” He had reason to ask this, of course – he was dead, and on the command of my wife he had his guts pulled from him. He didn’t care about that part – being dead removes these sorts of concerns from a fish’s mind – but this never-sentient, now non-being, would exact revenge for my wife’s rendezvous with the fish monger.

There was no grand gesture he could make to get back at us for his life being taken as he lie wrapped in paper in our shopping cart, but he could get us in a dozen different ways. The first occurred at the checkout: $15.44 it would cost us to cart his dead body home.

The second insult he perpetrated on us was the leakage of his fish fluids on our vegetables. You can’t rinse that off and put away your salad greens after – it meant cooking up something with the vegetables impromptu, and because it was impromptu, it went uneaten. From the pulling out of the sautée pan, the chopping board, the spices and the oil, the chopping, sautéing, then storing in a dish in the fridge, the cleaning of the board, the pan, and the utensils, and the eventual tossing of the uneaten vegetables a week later and the cleaning of the storage bowl all likely added up to probably $8 in wasted food thrown away and an hour of a human’s life for all that taking out, cooking, cleaning, storing & tossing.

Well played, red snapper, well played.

And he wasn’t done yet.

He was bought without a plan – which fit neatly into his. He was ours because we felt he’d be a meal ‘some time during the week’ but his arrival in the house without immediate utility meant that he would have to compete for space in our overcrowded fridge, and since dead red snapper have lost all of their competitive nature, we would have to take on the challenge.

He was a leaker – we already knew that, so we took extra care to wrap him in a plastic bag and find him space on the lower shelf, where competition was fierce. He ended up as bedding for a carton of eggs and when we finally found him a home, he was promptly forgotten as he had hoped.

A fresh red snapper is excellent broiled with some ginger and scallions with a little soy sauce and sesame oil. The simple preparation brings out the delicate flavor of the fresh fish. Not so the less-than-fresh red snapper – as ours proceeded into with each subsequent day he was forgotten in the hustle and rush of typical weekday.

Now, way past his prime – not yet foul but not still able to wear the label of ‘fresh’ – he was discovered late in the week during a random rummage. This was perfect for our snapper’s plan for revenge. He was still too good to just straight toss and this would be his grand finale of destruction and revenge for our pescetarianism.

It was thought that he might not be a smart candidate for a light broil due to his age, but he might fare better as part of a fish soup, cooked a little more thoroughly. Out came the soup pot and the cutting board, some complimentary vegetables, and the prep and cooking time needed to make our sunk-cost fallacy – and the snapper’s revenge – complete.

The kids and the husband wanted nothing of Mom’s impromptu fish soup made from fish rescued from the trash, so they ate leftovers. Mom had a bowl, but that left a pot – a huge pot – on the stove. There was no room for it in the fridge so it took up residence on the stovetop with a lid on it – and was forgotten again.

Only when Mom walked in from work two days later and said: “What’s that smell?” Did we realize that the snapper had begun to exact the most fragrant part of his revenge – saving the best for last. Getting rid of a large pot of ripening fish flesh is like dealing with nuclear waste – one must carefully think through the options or the cleanup could be worse than the problem you are trying to deal with.

We removed enough dishes from the sink so as to allow us to pour the remainder of the soup into the food disposal and with a whir and a run of water, he was gone, though we needed to throw a lemon in there to get the fish smell out of the disposal.

There was still the pot to be dealt with, however. The red snapper had left a portion of his skin on the pot-side like an inner-city gang tag spray-painted on a random wall – he would not let himself be forgotten that easily. It was late and the pot seemed too much a task to clean, so it was filled with hot soapy water and left to sit.

And it sat. Having no established kitchen cleaning rules except ‘somebody is going to have to clean that up!’ means that the family plays a game of ‘kitchen-chicken’: while the utensils become less and less and cooking pots scarce, the sink fills more and more, arguments ensue about who is the biggest culprit in filling the sink. The blamestorming and finger-pointing can continue for days while the cups and utensils get further depleted and tensions build. This particular week was particularly contentious because of the black pot of now-fermenting snapper, now with a slight lavender scent from the soap detergent, that awaited the first person to blink in the high-stakes game of: ‘who’s going to clean the kitchen?’

Dad played the ‘sick’ card having been actually sick – why not use it to his advantage? When life gives you lemons, make lemonade – right? But no one else did it either. Dad started feeling better and the kitchen began to drive him nuts, so he blinked and began to clean.

He saved the pot of the end. It was omnipresent while Dad cleaned around it, and dreaded the entire time. A half-measure was taken: drain out the fermenting water that had been soaking up the fish remains for 2 days and replace it with fresh water and soap. This bought some time, but then the showdown came – and it consisted of Dad sticking his arm in the pot and scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing the fish skin off the side of the pot. It did not want to leave. The fish laughed. Dad scrubbed. After what seemed like a few hours, elbow grease and scalding hot water finally yielded a clean pot.

The snapper was finally gone, leaving in his wake two containers of mostly wasted food, innumerable dishes and utensils to clean, pots to scour, fish remnants to toss in the trash, a fishy lingering smell in our kitchen, hours of human life taken never to return dealing with the results of his revenge, and probably a total of $25 for 1 bowl of old fish soup.

Next time I’ll recommend the wife have a bologna sandwich instead. Who says convenience foods suck?